Photographer: Raymond Meeks
Title: Crow, Fractured Tree, Montana, 2002
Camera: Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot
A cacophony of crows woke me at twilight the other morning. I had heard a great horned owl calling in our little wood around midnight, a rare pleasure, and it’s a good guess that these vociferous corvids were mobbing their dreaded foe. I should have investigated, but coffee wouldn’t be brewing for another two hours, so I ignored the dissonance as best I could and rolled over to catch up with an interrupted dream.
“The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark / When neither is attended,” William Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice. Perchance English crows are more musically inclined than the American crow, whose song was described by one ornithologist as a mixture “of many types of song elements—coos, caws, rattles, clicks, and grating noises—arranged in long sequences that have a rambling, improvised quality.” What we typically hear, however, is the crow’s familiar caw! Or rather one of 16 or more cawing variations, for nature equipped this black brigand with six pairs of syringeal muscles. They produce an extraordinary repertoire of calls that have different meanings in different circumstances. At least to listening crows, for many of these calls have defied human interpretation.
Not so the raucous assembly call, which summons every crow within earshot to drive off a predator. In fact, one observer counted 136 crows mobbing a single great horned owl. Crows, it should be noted, are social birds that sleep in communal roosts in winter in numbers ranging from a few hundred to an unimaginable million or more birds. But they are often portrayed in literature and art as sinister loners, messengers of misfortune and death. A dead tree is often part of the image, like the broken stub of an aspen in this Raymond Meeks picture, grabbed from his bicycle on a country road in Montana. The image appears in his first book, Sound of Summer Running (Nazraeli Press, 2005). As Meeks explains the theme, “I photograph in response to my immediate surroundings, landscapes that I walk or drive past nearly every day. There is no real intent other than to make a record of time and place.”—Les Line
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